Craig R. Prentiss
With the slow realization that race was not a category in nature, but rather the fruit of social imagination emerging from colonialism, scholars in the late 20th century shifted their focus to the cultural elements feeding that imagination, including religion and the arts. Although most studies in the field address fairly conventional constructions of religion and the arts (two categories that, like race, have also been destabilized), some studies reveal the potential for these three categories to be co-constituting. Studies addressing religiously themed music, including spirituals, gospel, hip-hop, and a significant portion of country music, have shed light on the ways in which these genres encode and inform racial paradigms. Portraits in theater, dance, and film of ideas and practices associated with Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, and other social groupings have proven active sites for the production of influential, and often competing, conceptions of race. Stereotypes linking religious and racial classifications are perpetuated as well as challenged in these artistic media. Given that the racial imagination in the United States is articulated using the language of color, painting and sculpture have been instrumental in conveying vivid connections between race and religion. For instance, many paintings celebrating Christianity’s triumph over America’s indigenous people concurrently depicted white dominance over them as well. A theological system rooting skin color in divine decree, like the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints did in its Book of Mormon, helped assure a fair-skinned and fair-haired Jesus would populate its art. The politics of Jesus’ color continued to be played out in painting and sculpture in the United States to the present day, and exemplifies the interaction of racial, religious, and artistic categories.
Along with the buddha and the dharma, the sangha is one of the “three jewels,” the core aspects of Buddhism in which a Buddhist “takes refuge.” The sangha is responsible for taking care of and propagating the dharma, the teachings of the buddha. It can also be considered more broadly as the Buddhist community, which in turn can be thought of as the group of people who either take refuge in the three jewels or follow the teachings of the buddha. Given this, the sangha has generally been conceptualized in two ways. Most often, it refers to the community of men and women who have been ordained as monks and nuns under the auspices of Buddhist disciplinary teachers. At the same time, it can sometimes refer more broadly to the four-fold community of monks, nuns, laymen, and laywomen.
While the sangha may be discussed in the singular, generally speaking it is appropriate to think of sanghas in the plural. In this sense, the term refers not to an ideal community that maintains the teachings of the buddha but rather to the communal and institutional structures through which people define themselves as Buddhist and maintain their Buddhist identities. A particular sangha is revealed by interrogating the linkages (i.e., lineages) between different Buddhists, the kinds of educational structures in place to train adherents, the ways that Buddhists discipline themselves (for example, through the vinaya rules), and the ways in which external governing bodies seek to regulate Buddhist communities.